Mike Weir: ‘I’m still working hard and believe in myself’

by Hailey Salvian, Postmedia Network

LONDON, ONT. – It’s two hours past when he was scheduled to appear. It’s windy, raining and generally unpleasant, yet dozens of kids and their parents are scattered around Sunningdale Golf and Country Club. They’re on the driving range, putting green or hiding from the elements in their cars — anything to kill time while they wait to meet a Canadian golfing legend.

That’s the Mike Weir effect.

The 2003 Masters champion from Brights Grove, Ont., has had one of the most impressive careers of any Canadian golfer. He was once considered to be one of the best in the game, peaking at No. 3 in the world golf rankings the year he won his only major.

But Weir has lost his form. He has plummeted to No. 1,662 in the world and has had one top-10 finish since 2011.

Despite his struggles, he still draws a crowd of fans and the awe-struck attention of young Canadian golfers who cry with elation as he arrives at the 2016 Mike Weir Golf Drive for Kids.

Weir was late for his annual charity tournament that supports pediatric health care because his flight was delayed and he was held up in Highway 401 traffic. But he was eager to meet the young fans who waited for him at Sunningdale, where the tournament was held Sunday and Monday.

“They’ve been waiting for me, so I want to spend time with them and take the time to show them I appreciate their efforts,” Weir said.

Their efforts raised $25,000 that will support the 14 hospitals that make up the Children’s Miracle Network in Canada, including Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre.

The London tournament close to Weir’s hometown is a break from the world of professional golf that hasn’t been kind to Weir in recent years.

He hasn’t won a PGA tournament in nine years. He’s relying on medical exemptions to play in eight PGA events this season.

“I would have liked to have more success by now, but I’m still working hard and believe in myself,” Weir said. “As long as that belief is there I’ll keep working hard.”

It’s a work ethic that has helped him persevere through injuries and personal challenges.

In 2011, Weir tore a tendon in his elbow, leaving him with a weaker, less mobile swing. In 2014, he and his wife divorced, and after pulling out of the 2015 RBC Canadian Open, Weir decided to take a break from the game. But he is back now, and working with famed coach David Leadbetter.

“I really think I can (come back),” he says. “I believe in the process I’m going through with David … I see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Weir is focusing on making his comeback overseas, namely in Europe with the French and Scottish opens.

All things considered, Weir is incessantly positive and optimistic. He said his attitude has to do with perspective and having experienced the game through his peak years to now.

“I’ve accomplished way more in my career than I could have dreamed. I’m kind of on bonus time now,” he said. “I’m content with what I’ve done, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still driven.”

Weir has defied the odds his entire career, as critics said he was too small or not powerful enough. He silenced doubters in 2003 at Augusta when he walked away with the green jacket. And today, he says he hopes to defy them again.

“I’m not going to make any bold predictions, but I feel good about things there are some good things coming with my golf,” he said.

“I don’t think I’m done at all.”